On Guns, Lobbying, and Mental Health
In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, President Bush asked for a report on steps the federal government might take to prevent future tragedies. The report landed with a thud yesterday, the same day that the US House passed a bill making it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns. As the Washington Post reported:
The Democrat-backed legislation was crafted in coordination with the National Rifle Association, increasing its chances of becoming law, lawmakers said yesterday.
You've got to love that. I mean, here I was, complaining about an NC Senate bill crafted with the advice of the billboard industry, while north-a-ways Democrats were working with the NRA on the first serious gun legislation in more than a decade. Obviously I have to be in favor of the kind of info-sharing required by this bill, as indeed anyone should be, but am I wrong to wonder at the process? Why does the NRA have a seat at this table? Are we so far gone that we accept this news without blinking? I know a bunch of y'all are going to get all up in my grill about how grassroots the good ol' NRA is, and blah blah blah. Seriously, though, do they need to be IN THE ROOM when the bill is written? Are the positions of the NRA not sufficiently known? Who represents the non-gun-owning people in Gucci Gulch? Because clearly our representatives need so much help crafting legislation that we can't count on them to know what we think, we need representatives for our representatives. Or maybe what we think isn't compelling enough to help little bill become a law. That's right, it's the inclusion of the NRA that makes this bill more likely to become a law. The rest of us, that is the 61% of American adults who don't live in firearm-owning homes, need to get together and see if someday our opinions can mean that a bill has a better shot at becoming a law.
Apparently the NRA didn't work on Bush's report,because it's not proving so popular. Michael J. Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, summed it up:
The president's task force report is a disappointment. It repeats much of what we have known for years. It talks about encouraging people to get help when they need it — when the real problem is that help often is not available."
This sentiment was echoed in the report of a state probe of the Tech tragedy that was released Monday. James W. Stewart III, inspector general for Virginia's Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, summarized the findings:
The underlying factor here is the resources available at which to provide a full range of community mental health services are inadequate. We do not have an adequate enough range and comprehensiveness within that service system to assure we prevent crises and we intervene effectively during crises."
So the Virginia system is not funded properly? There but for the grace of God go we, 'cause that's certainly true in North Carolina where the mental health system is a nightmare to navigate and short on services to boot. God forbid we should commit money to the mentally ill. I bet not even the NRA could make that attractive to lawmakers these days.